Web of Communication

Sharing aggregated EHR data to improve Minnesota’s response to COVID-19

To better inform Minnesota’s response to COVID-19, the majority of the state’s healthcare providers have created the Minnesota EHR COVID Consortium to pool together key statistics about the pandemic. 

The Consortium uses aggregated data from their electronic health records to paint a picture of COVID-19 testing, infections, and hospitalizations statewide. All statistics are broken down by geographic location, race, ethnicity, whether patients need an interpreter, and other variables. This helps health systems and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) improve models used to plan for surges in infections and decide where to allocate resources, such as mobile testing vans, while the aggregation protects patient privacy. 

The Consortium went from an idea to releasing statewide reports to MDH in a month, a timeline that would not have been possible without prior investments from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) at the University of Minnesota (UMN). CTSI had funded the creation of the original data infrastructure used by the two health systems leading the effort (Hennepin Healthcare and M Health Fairview), which meant that their first task was just drawing data out of existing databases, rather than having to put a database together before they could get started. 

Investing in clinical data infrastructures

The Minnesota EHR COVID Consortium was formed amid the pandemic by Drs. Anne Murray and Tyler Winkelman from Hennepin Healthcare and Drs. Paul Drawz and Adams Dudley from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Drawz is a former scholar in CTSI’s K-R01 Transition to Independence Program, designed to place investigators on the path to expanded research and competitive research funding. Dr. Murray is a CTSI leader representing Hennepin Healthcare, a UMN CTSA hub partner. Dr. Winkelman is supported with CTSI funding in his role as Associate Director of the CTSI-sponsored Virtual Data Warehouse at Hennepin Healthcare. 

When the team initially developed the Consortium’s data queries and reporting systems, they used Hennepin Healthcare’s Virtual Data Warehouse and CTSI’s COVID-19 Registry. CTSI funded these resources, which house electronic health records for research purposes. CTSI has also supported key staff and training at UMN and Hennepin Healthcare. 

The Hennepin Healthcare-M Health Fairview team was then able to offer guidance for collecting the data to other local healthcare organizations, leading to rapid growth of the Consortium. As of June 2020, the consortium comprises five healthcare organizations (Allina, Essentia, HealthPartners, Hennepin Healthcare, M Health Fairview), plus Minnesota Community Measurement, the Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement, UMN CTSI, and the Minnesota Department of Health. A number of additional healthcare organizations across the state are in the process of joining the endeavor.

Understanding COVID-19’s impact across patient populations

Participating sites share summary statistics, such as how many patients test positive for COVID-19, how many are hospitalized, and how many are in the ICU. By gathering and aggregating the data, the consortium paints a more complete picture of how COVID-19 testing, infections, and hospitalizations are changing across geographies and across time. 

Sites also break down these statistics by race, ethnicity, and other sociodemographic variables to better understand disparities across populations. Preliminary results show evidence of disparities in infection rates and testing rates across race and ethnicity, as well as by neighborhood and in rural versus urban areas.

The COVID-19 surveillance information from this consortium is valuable because it is:

  • Comprehensive: Includes a majority of the healthcare systems across the state.
  • Timely: Updates occur weekly and data is available to all participating health systems and to MDH.
  • Detailed: Includes hospitalizations as well as COVID-19-related statistics for ambulatory, telehealth visits, and data from rural healthcare.

Informing Minnesota’s response

This information is helping to better plan for health care resource utilization and monitor the infection and testing in the community.

Health systems, for example, can better plan for surges in infections. By sharing data with the Minnesota Department of Health, the consortium also gives them better insight into the COVID-19 situation across the state. MDH recently included the Consortium in a CDC-funded program, with $1 million in federal funding going to the participating systems to help accelerate and sustain this collaboration.  

“This endeavor shows CTSI can play an important role in connecting, organizing, and fostering collaboration across regional healthcare organizations,” says Dr. Drawz. “We hope the collaboration can help identify disparities and inform interventions to reduce those differences and improve outcomes for all Minnesotans.”